Experimental implications of new developments in quantum thermodynamic theory

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Physics


Thermodynamics is a phenomenological theory that allows the investigation of equilibrium properties of macroscopic objects. Based on fundamental measurable quantities - heat and work - it provides a universal framework to study the conversion of different forms of energy. Introduced at the beginning of the industrial revolution, to analyse and improve the performance of the newly invented steam engine, it has been successfully applied ever since to design a great variety of useful devices, from car engines and fridges to power plants and solar cells. Now technological progress is increasingly miniaturising to the nanoscale and into the quantum regime where thermal fluctuations compete with quantum fluctuations.

Detailed mathematical and practical knowledge of quantum thermodynamic processes that can support these advances is however not well-established. Only recently have a number of theoretical developments, pursued by different communities and with different methods, started to fill this gap with breakthroughs in non-equilibrium quantum fluctuation relations, single shot thermodynamics and thermodynamic resource theory. The key aim of the project is to identify how these disparate theoretical approaches fit together, what experimental predictions they imply, and to generalise them to general quantum processes whenever possible. This is an essential step towards a unified theoretical framework for quantum thermodynamics that can underpin future technological development at the nanoscale that promise to have applications from computer chips to medicine.

Planned Impact

The proposed research project addresses primarily fundamental physics questions in the emerging field of quantum thermodynamics. Impact is expected within the field and beyond - many scientific disciplines, including engineering and biochemistry, have a strong need for tools developed for thermodynamics when applied to small ensembles and in the presence of quantum properties. Industry is also starting to require knowledge of how quantum fluctuations affect thermal fluctuations, for instance in data recording processes. This will, in the long term, lead to economic growth and eventually to applications that will benefit society at large.

The project's impact on industry lies in advancing the understanding of thermodynamic and non-equilibrium processes at the nano-scale, which is key in uncovering and making optimal use of the power of new technologies. These include nano-electromechanical systems, molecular motors and ultra-high precision nano-mechanical sensors, that miniaturise into the regime where quantum effects become important. In this regime, it is uncertain which parts of the established theoretical framework of thermodynamics are applicable and which have to be modified. The programme's research will remove this uncertainty and provide the necessary scientific basis for further technological progress. The long term impact on society of advancing these technologies is expected to include the improvement of healthcare through precision sensing, and the provision of small scale and powerful computer chips and data storage devices that can handle large amounts of data.

The programme will train people in skills that are highly sought by UK academia and industry, including computer programming, team-working, public speaking, project and people management, and problem solving in general.


10 25 50
publication icon
Anders J (2017) Focus on quantum thermodynamics in New Journal of Physics

publication icon
Cottet N (2017) Observing a quantum Maxwell demon at work. in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

publication icon
Jevtic S (2017) A qualitative quantum rate model for hydrogen transfer in soybean lipoxygenase in The Journal of Chemical Physics

publication icon
Kammerlander P (2016) Coherence and measurement in quantum thermodynamics. in Scientific reports

publication icon
Mohammady M (2017) A quantum Szilard engine without heat from a thermal reservoir in New Journal of Physics

publication icon
Philbin T (2016) Thermal energies of classical and quantum damped oscillators coupled to reservoirs in Journal of Physics A: Mathematical and Theoretical

Description - derived single shot work,
- shown that quantum coherence has a thermodynamic work contribution,
- established quantum work concept fully analogous to classical phase space work concept,
- realised and analysed first superconducting qubit experiment tomographically assessing energetic and entropic exchanges,
- established generalised detailed fluctuation theorems for strongly coupled classical systems far out of equilibrium,
- detailed measurement dependent corrections to quantum fluctuation relations,
- proposed new quantum model for the analysis of an enzyme's role in the enhancement of reaction rates,
- showed that disordered media have the potential to generate quantum correlated light modes.
Exploitation Route - informs technological development at nanoscale
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy

URL https://arxiv.org/find/all/1/all:+anders_j/0/1/0/all/0/1
Description Invited+attended European Science policy scoping meeting: COST CONNECT, Warsaw March 2018
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
URL http://www.cost.eu/COST_connect
Description collaboration with multiscale statistical physics group at Aalto University (Ala-Nissila group) established 
Organisation Aalto University
Country Finland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Established new concept of work in the quantum regime based on classical phase space methods. This research was conducted together with the partner group.
Collaborator Contribution Established new concept of work in the quantum regime based on classical phase space methods. This research was conducted together with my group.
Impact 1 Publication: R. Sampaio et al. listed in publications section. Research is multidisciplinary: combines classical statistical physics methods with quantum theoretical methods.
Start Year 2017
Description collaboration with superconducting qubit group at ENS Lyon (Huard group) established 
Organisation École Normale Supérieure, Paris
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution provided thermodynamic analysis of superconducting qubit experiment, developed concept of binary entropy appropriate for the experiment, wrote paper
Collaborator Contribution performed the experiment, data analysis and numerical simulation
Impact research partnership established, paper published in PNAS, this is multidisciplinary research: combining experimental superconducting qubits with theoretical analysis of thermodynamic energy and entropy changes
Start Year 2016
Description 5th Quantum Thermodynamics conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Programme committee chair of 5th Quantum Thermodynamics conference, the biggest conference of this field.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://qtd5.sciencesconf.org/
Description KITP programme on Thermodynamics of quantum systems: Measurement, engines, and control 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact this activity will take place in 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.kitp.ucsb.edu/activities/qthermo18
Description news coverage on our PNAS paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact 6+ international news outlets reported on the paper, with follow up emails from international scientists, the public and book authors covering the subject
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.altmetric.com/details/21500290/news